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Dental Care For Pets

According to one faculty affiliate of the Tufts School of Dental Medicine, taking care of your cat or dog's teeth is key to ensuring its health.

No. Grafton, Mass. [07.07.05] While brushing our teeth is something most humans do every day without giving it a second thought, paying attention to our pets' dental health isn’t always as automatic. But a good dental care is just as important to keeping cats and dogs healthy as it is to humans, according to Dr. David Leader, an affiliate member of the department of general dentistry at the Tufts School of Dental Medicine.

"We are responsible for all of our pets' needs. Good dental health will help your cat or dog live longer and be healthier," Leader wrote in the Malden Observer.

In his column, Leader wrote about Dr. Courtney Lewis (V'01) of the Animal Hospital of Lynnfield, who studied pet dentistry while a student at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts. The topic has become an increasingly pertinent topic in veterinary education, according to Leader.

On a tour the animal hospital's dental facilities led by Lewis, Leader got a first-hand look at the current state of dental care for pets.

"There were instruments that any dentist would recognize," he wrote in the newspaper. "The dental x-ray machine is one used in some dental offices. There are dental drills and extraction forceps. Many instruments are different to allow for the shape of animals' teeth."

Tufts' Henry and Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals has offered veterinary dental services for over a decade. Tufts veterinarian Bonnie Shope, DVM, currently has approximately 500 dental appointments per year.

The most common problem for pets' teeth is gum or periodontal disease. The best way to prevent it, he writes, is brushing the pet’s teeth.

"Toothpaste for pets lacks foaming agents and fluoride so that the animal will not become ill from swallowing it," Leader wrote in the Observer. "Proper oral hygiene saves the owner hundreds of dollars every other year by avoiding the need for scaling dogs and cats' teeth."

Leader advised pet owners not to be too concerned if their pet is toothless due to periodontal disease or another cause, since a cat or dog's teeth are designed for tearing into meat and are not needed to consume wet food or dry kibble.

"A toothless pet dog or cat will never starve," Leader wrote. "Feral, or wild, cats and dogs that do use their teeth for hunting and tearing food, could not survive without teeth."

There are some dental conditions that are unique to particular animals, Leader described. For example, cats are susceptible to Feline Odontoclastic Resorption Lesion (FORL), an auto-immune disease where the cat's own cells eat away at the tooth.

Dogs and cats can get cavities, receive root canals, or require crowns and fillings just like humans, according to Leader. There are even orthodontic options for some pets.

"Like humans, cats and dogs may have over bites or under bites," Leader wrote in the Observer. "Malocclusion (bad bite) might cause an uncomfortable condition for pets making it difficult to eat or fully close their mouths," he added.

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